It wasn’t a pretty win, but when you’ve dropped five out of your last seven games, a win is more important than grace.
The Knicks bounced back against a Pacers team they struggled with a little under two weeks ago, winning 92-84 to a relieved crowd. The low score reminded fans like P&T’s Unmitigated Gall of a 1990s contest.
The game started off similarly to the one prior to it, with Kemba Walker proving he can still score the basketball, scoring New York’s first eight points. Walker would finish the game with 16 points on 8 for 11 shooting, but most encouraging is how comfortably he got inside, scoring in the paint five times.
Unlike against the Hornets, Walker’s heroics weren’t enough to win the quarter, though despite a 20-16 Pacers lead after a grinded out quarter, the play itself was not all that discouraging. The Knicks made just eight of their 23 shots, and missed all nine attempts from distance on open looks. The Pacers were not much better, making just one of their nine shots from distance. When you’ve looked so discombobulated as of late, it is still hard to accept a moral victory, especially when you score just 16.
In an identical manner to most games this season and the one prior for that matter, the Knicks’ bench got things going. Derrick Rose scored twice off layups to end the first and begin the second quarter, and then it was Immanuel Quickley who would knock down the Knicks first three of the night, just to make another three moments later.
The pattern of the bench one-upping itself continued as Obi Toppin connected with Derrick Rose for the umpteenth time on an alley-oop, just to throw down an impossible double-clutch dunk on Goga Bitazde the next time down.
The Pacers were resilient, and after Myles Turner made a career-high in threes the prior game, it was the other Pacers big man in Domantas Sabonis who would answer back with the three ball to hold the Knicks lead to 2 at 28-26.
The two-time All-Star made all three of his attempts from distance of the half despite shooting just 26.2% from deep on the season, a seemingly common occurrence for the Knicks this season of poor shooters going off.
When the Pacers took a 37-36 lead shortly after Rose exited, it seemed that things would go the same way—the starters would struggle and ultimately come up short while the bench would play great.
After a Brogdon layup again cut it to two at 45-43, it seemed like the tide was shifting negatively yet again when Randle dribbled up the court just to turn it over, and taking a few moments to get back on defense along with RJ Barrett.
The feelings of gloom were shortly answered by Taj Gibson on the end, who was a otherworldly presence on that end all night, stuffing Sabonis at the rim, leading to an Evan Fournier three. Gibson was forced to yet again take on a larger role with Nerlens Noel already out and Mitchell Robinson unfortunately exiting after hurting his ankle again (along with blocking three shots in fifteen minutes). The immortal 36 year-old didn’t make a shot from the field, but was still a force with a game-high plus-22 with key plays such as that.
The Pacers then made back-to-back three pointers of their own, answered back by back-to-back missed three pointers by Julius Randle. After all the talk of adjusting, it appeared that the Knicks had not made much progress at all—the bench thriving while the starters struggled. RJ Barrett, who had made just 4-17 shots coming into the game ended the first half 0-6 from the field. Walker again had the worst +/- on the team even when he was scoring well, and Randle again seemed off in shot-making and effort from last season.
The beginning of the second half wasn’t much better. A bevy of buckets from the Pacers had them up 68-56 after six minutes, and it seemed this game would end the same way the last few had. RJ Barrett may be inconsistent, but he is certainly resilient. The struggling Barrett snapped his missing streak with not one, but two straight three pointers to delight the crowd and bring the team to within double digits.
Gibson came in for a hobbled, struggling Robinson and knocked down two free throws to cut it to 70-64 with four minutes left in the half.
The momentum was again stopped by a Julius Randle who made efforts to push the ball in transition and get others involved, but could not find his own offense much of the night, missing or turning it over on three of the Knicks’ next four possessions.
The Knicks again seemed to be losing their control of the contest, down seven in the quarter with less than a minute remaining, until Gibson dished out one of three assists to an open Alec Burks, who made it 74-69 to end the half with his first points of the game.
Like he did as a rookie, Quickley would carry infectious momentum into the fourth quarter, knocking down a floater, and then tying up the game at 74 apiece with a three and forcing a Pacers timeout. Quickley’s five points were the only ones scored for the first three minutes in a physical game that the refs let both teams play on for much of. The enigmatic sophomore finished the game with 16 points on 4-4 shooting from distance and a plus-20, and has strung together six excellent games after a worrisome start.
Former Knick Justin Holiday would answer back with a three pointer of his own, but the composed veteran Alec Burks knocked down another three to tie it at 77 with 7:40 in the game, and then giving the Knicks the lead with two free throws on their next possession after being fouled on a three.
In a surprising move, the still-struggling Barrett came in for Rose and struggled again to get his shot going with back to back missed pull-up jumpers—but the young prospect has no conscience, and came down the floor the very next play and drew a foul, knocking down one of two free throws.
After Malcolm Brogdon finally started missing after taking advantage of Walker’s limited defense most of the game, Quickley continued to make everything.
A redemptive Julius Randle found the wide open marksman in the corner for three, giving the Knicks an 83-82 lead with five minutes remaining. Randle finished with just 11 points on 5-15 shooting and five turnovers to his five assists, but he was a key offensive engine at the end of the game instead of forcing poor looks.
Randle finished a minus-1 after finishing with a minus-18 or worse in three of his last four games—Walker, Fournier, and Robinson still finished with one in the negative double-digits.
The Knicks defense stifled the Pacers on the next few plays as they had throughout the quarter, holding them to just 10 points on an unbelievable 2-20 shooting.
Rose channeled Kobe Bryant with a fadeaway jumper turning towards the middle before finding a streaking RJ Barrett for a slam to extend the game to 87-82 with 3:26 left.
The timeless Taj Gibson again terrorized the Pacers on defense, coming out of nowhere to deflect a pass to a wide open Justin Holiday with 2:28 remaining.
A possession later, Caris LeVert would then draw two free throws to cut it to a one possession game with a little over a minute left, but a team-centric Julius Randle handed off the ball to Derrick Rose while crushing his defender in Justin Holiday with a screen that freed him up for a game-clinching layup at 89-84 with 57 seconds left.
In poetic fashion, Knick killers in Brogdon and Turner missed back to back threes as an RJ Barrett seemed to put his slump to bed along with the game, knocking down a no-doubt corner three pointer with 19.8 seconds left to give the Knicks a 92-84 victory.
It wasn’t perfect. Walker’s confusing lack of impact remained, despite a better performance as offensive focal points Barrett, Randle, and Fournier all struggled with their shots.
It was undeniably progress, which is about all you can ask for from a young team striving for sustained improvement.